World's Toughest Mudder (MoVember) 2017 - by Alex Burns

Australian Obstacle Racing News   |   Dec 21, 2017

Vegas, Nevada - "Hard As Hell"

Where do I even start – it's taken almost 2 weeks to process my thoughts about the event, and I'm sure it will be a work in progress as I remember more.

Do I start back to when I first saw one of the YouTube documentaries, in which I watched Mudders breaking ice blocks from obstacles, sandstorms and people plummeting from a 35 foot cliff? Or do I start from booking the registration and flights, or lining up in the start shoot?

World's Toughest Mudder is no mere weekend drive down the road to your local OCR race - it's a trip overseas, it's the "hardest race on earth', it's an adventure and one that should be respected.

I HAD TO DO IT

For those that are not overly familiar with the event – check out these YouTube short documentaries explaining what it's all about. These were what got me really hooked.

The race itself is a 24 hour slog around a 5 mile course, for laps, with some of Tough Mudder's best and favourite obstacles thrown in for good measure. WTM also lends itself to being a fantastic testing ground for Tough Mudder HQs new devilish obstacles.

This event had been the primary focus for all my training for the last 12/16 months. Everything I had done - obstacle races, CrossFit, Yoga and running sessions had been to get me ready for this. Just ask Amy, I was obsessed. WTM on the brain 24/7/365. I found that as my training progressed my goals got a little bigger as the months went by.

When I signed up in December 2016 I was hoping I might make it to 50 miles (80 kms), then I was all like "yeah nah let's go for 60 Miles (100kms) that's a nice and round number". Then I found out that WTM offers a silver bib for completion of 75 miles (120 kms). It's something that only 67 people achieved in 2016, but hell I wanted it.

I have to say the biggest of thankyous to Amy, my better half, for agreeing to come and support me throughout this crazy adventure. She had my back, learnt everything that she could about the 'art of pit crew" and knocked it out of the field. I really could not have done it with out her. (note: Apparently her assistance was completely self motivated so I didn't die and she wouldn't have to find a new boyfriend).

Doing it for a cause – Worlds Toughest MoVember ;)

It was a lucky coincidence that Worlds Toughest lies in November. It gave me the perfect opportunity to use the race to support my favourite charity MoVember (much to the disappointment of Amy, who hates the Mo vehemently). I asked people to pledge a donation based on kilometres or laps that I completed. So far, I've managed to raise over $1500 dollars and would love it if you would like to support too. Every small donation helps. Be it $1 dollar, $100 or anywhere in between. MoVember does a fantastic job spreading the word about men's health and supporting research in the field, and testing my girlfriend's patience every year.

My donation link is below for those able to support. Thankyou!

https://mobro.co/alexburns202

a nice little shout out from the Australian MoVember team, thanks guys
A nice little shout out from the Australian MoVember team, thanks guys

FRIDAY – Registration, "merch marathon" and pit load in

The early morning saw my last training run to shake out my legs before the big day. The taper had been a weird experience for me, winding back the miles and the amount of training I was doing had left me ready to jump out of my skin (probably exactly where I needed to be).

Getting to registration early is key. It's amazing how 1700 people flocking into a check-in line will bottleneck. Each year they apply a different system to sort the participants out to help with traffic flow. Really it worked pretty well, and was well organised. Sure, there was some waiting, but nothing too crazy if you consider the sheer volume of people they needed to check in.


This was the line I accidently walked into earlier than planned, ill camp out next time

Once you were given your bib, you were given free range of this year's merch - having been warned about missing out if you don't secure your gear here, I did. Who doesn't like a bit of swag? Caveat to being careful and quick because the checkout line took a solid 45 minutes (that's prime pit spotting time).

We caught a lift with our friend Branden and his badass pit crew mum Linda (thanks guys) to go find ourselves a good pit spot.

Pit spot selection. All the prime spots, as always, were taken (rightly so) by the elites and the teams. Branden was clever and pointed out sometimes looking sidewards is important. We found a close pit area just off to the side instead of following the main pit lane off into the distance. We were close to the hospitality and orphan tents. Our little home away from home.


We were behind the orange tents in centre of the photo

I think one of the things that really weirded me out about the event was that I felt completely calm, I was sleeping great and wasn't at all nervous. I felt prepared, I felt strong and I wanted to get after it. Who would have thought that countless hours of running and training would give you that confidence? I think the 2 weeks of taper before the race had me wanting to burst out of the gate. It was a great feeling.

Saturday – Time for the last dance in the desert

The morning went smoothly, sleeping as well as possible, nailing the timeline and finalising the gear load-in. We had been told it's best to only leave the tent full of rocks and nothing else on the Friday night (things apparently had gone missing in the past).


Home away from home, Amy happy with a coffee, Linda, Brandan and Michael sharing the home terf

We had the tent set up in good order, got dressed, lubed up, and put the racing vest on and good to go. I'm all about being early to things to score the best position, so Amy and I mapped out where we would meet each other in the fast pit lane and I made my way to the start chute at about 1030 (start time is 1200). People had written about getting to the start early and sitting down in the shade and claiming a spot and that exactly what I did.



start line chills, hot tip always take the chance to sit in the shade

They set the start order up with the elite contenders (Those that had qualified by running a top 5 in an 8hr Toughest Event), then the National Teams, then the contenders, and last (but never least) the open wave. I was directly behind the Teams. It was totally badass feeling being in the line next to Mudders like Wesley Kerr & Fabian Lindner. I had read everything these guys had written about WTM and was super thankful to get to say thankyou and good luck.

The World's Toughest Mudder has one of the most iconic start traditions of all the big OCR events - I'm sure you saw Shaun Corvell give his "what was the last time you did something for the first time" speech in the documentaries. This man delivers; he gets your heart pumping and you ARE fired up. I was also left a little speechless by the Americans when their national anthem was being sung and the speakers failed. There was no pause and the signing took over and got louder, and louder, it was a heart warming experience that is still a little weird to explain.

Ok, I lied: I wasn't calm the whole time leading into the race, the last 5 minutes were epic, this was it, over a year of training, early mornings, long runs this was it. And then, boom, we were off.

I was massively thankful to have been at the front of the start chute, it meant that I avoided most of the dust storm (which was epic, wear a buff). Running up that starting hill was awesome, there are hundreds, probably over a thousand pit crew and spectators going mental as you pass them.


Right up the front, literally living the dream

The five miles is the sprint lap, obstacle free. You get to run the course and bypass all the obstacles – it's TMHQ's way of splitting the athletes up, smoothing the field out a little bit, and making athletes nervous as they run past the scary-looking obstacles. This year's spanner in the works was that after the hour grace period, the obstacles were opened on a (very slow) rolling basis, forcing people to rethink strategies they had. I decided to keep the pace up more than planned, but only so much as I knew my heart rate wasn't too crazy.


Wow my girlfriend takes great photos of my ugly mo

The first 3 laps went smoothly with me in high spirits – I think I, like many of the other runners were thinking to ourselves, "wow this is going swimmingly let's bring on a 90 mile run". I did however think back to the moment when the race directors at the start told us that they didn't want us to meet our mileage goals this year. This would be a hell of a course!


I loved starting then lap past the flags from all the countries present, always drove home the WORLDS Toughest Mudder community is strong all over

The obstacles were wicked fun. Of note was Rope-A-Dope/Nope-Rope/Ow-My-Hands – a jump out over water, catch a rope and climb up and down the other side. It went well until the middle of the night where my hands gave out.


Rope a Dope – I will have my revenge

Kong Infinity – I loved this thing, a big old barrel and rings – it was nowhere near as hard as it looked (with big thanks to my Super Ninja Girlfriend for the Ninja Obstacle Tips).


Seriously loved this thing

Lap 4-9

Video updates on Facebook for the team at home, also a great memory for me

This was a tricky part: it wasn't getting that cold, and I was well ahead of where I wanted to be, so even though I had planned on putting my Frog Skins on at end of 3rd lap, we decided to leave it an extra one. There were lots of horror stories about people getting hypothermia on lap 2/3 in previous years and I wanted to avoid that, but you need to remember to listen to your body, and adjust for the conditions at hand. The key to me understanding this was probably the sheer amount of training in and out of the gear I had purchased, in the worst weather I could find. I knew my body and what it needed, and that was what really saved me out there.


Blegg Mitts on point, keeping my fingers warm, and me checking my pacing

So there were a few weaknesses to my plan. I had Frog Skins, a shorty and Neptune top - I knew I was taking a risk using less gear, but I wanted the freedom of movement of less millimetres. Water got in the two-piece Frog Skins, and that would make me cold later. Having all those layers instead of one big layer really squeezed my chest and made me feel like I was fighting for every breath. I'm sure this wasted a lot of energy.

I'll definitely be looking into a one-piece suit with front zipper access for next time and a warmer layer that goes on the top that doesn't choke me as bad. That will hopefully let me unzip and let some cool air in to stop over heating, but zip up to keep warm in the water.

Midnight (Sunday) – Hell opened for business

Previous years had seen midnight bring some modifications to the obstacles to make them a little bit easier. This year however TMHQ were true to their promise: the course got brutal (people would not be making their goals). At midnight, they opened the obstacle "Stairway to Hell" that included a long extra slog of elevation to get there. Stage 5 Clinger went from inverted wooden beams, to backwards slippery metal bars. And, of course, the Cliff opened.

Ahh f**k the damn Cliff

So, to be honest: the cliff was probably the obstacle I was the most nervous about coming up to the race. I'm really not a fan of heights and of course, a 35 foot / 10 metre cliff jump really ruffles this fear. I thought that I might have been able to sneak in my 10th lap before needing to jump but alas I was a touch slow and I had to walk up to the edge just past midnight.


Apparently I look cold, sure. We will run with that

I made sure I took a few seconds to soak in the view, the pitch black, the green lights in the water, the people watching from the other side. I could hear Amy yelling out and encouraging me to jump. With the CBS camera in my face, I stepped off, there was more then enough time to think about how much it sucked on the way down, and then smack. I was all good, but damn it was a solid hit when entering the water. I enjoyed rolling over onto my back, to watch others jump and add words of encouragement when needed. Sometimes peer pressure is OK. I am proud of myself for doing this.


A photo to provide some good perspective

The Cold

After midnight the cold that I had been wondering about finally decided to rear its ugly head. This was in part due to the midnight opening of lots more water obstacles at the start of the lap, such as Hump Chuck, Statue of Liberty and also failing some more of the obstacles with water below.


Battery swap and amy putting me back together again

To give myself a little extra warmth we made sure that I always drank a medium size warm BCAA or plain water to help keep my core temperature up, and then poured a solid litre of warm water in the front and back of my suit. I think this was just enough to get me through the water obstacles at the start until I got over the hill and could move fast enough again to warm up. Mild hypothermia was not the best fun but manageable, I was lucky, a lot of others were not.


SWOL had a whole new meaning for my hands. Also balloon hands.

During the night I tried to smile at everyone, help where I could, and run through my mental mantras in my head. I was there to get this done. I had the privilege of running with some of the people that inspire me, Deanna Blegg and I bounced back and forward for a while and shared a few of the obstacles before she shot off into the distance. An absolute weapon and legend. She ended up in 4th for the women. There were a few other elites and runners that we bounced back and forward, sharing stories and keeping our spirits high. The volunteers were awesome, and so fired up, all night and all day, encouraging us, thank you.


I feaking LOVE Blockenss – but people need a lot more practice at backing up the people behind them

This stage of the race was very much a grind, one foot after the other and repeat through the obstacle, this is the part that I love.

Sunrise

I think the sunrise over the Vegas desert will be one of the memories that I hold onto the most. That ray of hope, "ok team we are ¾ through, time to power on home". Don't get me wrong: it absolutely got no warmer, but mentally it was a great boost and that lap time was good. It did start to warm up but only about 10 am, thankfully so I think I was just managing to maintain my core at a safe level.


No words needed

Shaun Corvelle says that you find your finish line somewhere out on course and then you survive to the end. This was the case for me as well, just over a mile into my 15th lap my ankles both seized up and were very painful, and I was unable to jog on them any more. I power walked the last few miles home with some wicked guys I met on course who were in a similar shape. It turns out it was just tight calves from the crazy amounts of hills and zero drop shoes (more training required).

That's one of the bests things about WTM: you're all in it together. We pulled each other through that last lap, jumping of the cliff with John and then jogging it across the line with him was an unforgettable feeling. Considering a few hours prior we were strangers, we really understood what each other had been through.

Amy was there waiting for me with the biggest smile on her face. We didn't say much; we didn't need to. She knew what it meant to me and I knew she was as proud of me as I was of her. The pit crew, the good ones, work damn hard, and they have to sit there and watch us push ourselves through the course.

Crossing that finish line and getting that black finisher head band was a great feeling, but when I walked up to the timing desk and received my SILVER BIB for 75 miles, that was next level. I was and am still absolutely ecstatic and trying to process it. That feeling of kicking a goal is fantastic. I was quietly confident that I would have what it takes, but there was still a whole lot of uncertainly, before WTM I had never ran more than 70kms (40 ish miles).


oooooooo yeah

Results

As it turns out, unlike last year's 67 people, only 36 people ran 75 miles. I was one of them. To my surprise, I also placed 24th out of all Mudders. Over 1600 had registered for the event. I couldn't believe it. After lap 6 I was bouncing around the placing between 13th and 20th. I was surprised, I was proud, I am fired up to do it again!!!!!


Big hands and almost coherent


The 75 mile club

Thankyou

I am so incredibly grateful for the people that have given me advice, listened to my thoughts and encouraged me along the way. We have a fantastic community of people that love to support each other. Thank you all so much - I'm looking forward to seeing you all soon.

Thanks for taking the time to have a listen to my crazy adventure. I'll take more time to put together a refined write up on my lessons learnt, but I know a lot of people wanted a run down in the meantime.

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